Chef Spotlight: David and Laura

A staple of The Avenue in Hampden since 2013, The Charmery welcomes adventurous ice cream lovers with hometown-inspired signature flavors like Old Bay Caramel and Maryland Mud, special events like “Ice Cream for Breakfast Day,” and a toboggan-sized metal ice cream scooper attached to its corner storefront. The shop offers super-premium ice cream in creative flavors that change daily in addition to favorites. It is the dream-come-true of husband-and-wife team David and Laura Alima, both Maryland natives. For more than 10 years, they travelled around the world for research and development for their own shop, which opened in 2013. The Charmery pays homage to the city David and Laura live in and love.

Get to Know David and Laura Alima

Culinary contributor Amy Langrehr sat down with David and Laura Alima chat about food, family and what’s great about Baltimore.

Why ice cream and why Baltimore?
David: Baltimore because we love it. We grew up around here. We have such a growing food and arts scene and we wanted to be a part of it. Laura: Ice cream because I wanted to open a food business. David started making ice cream and it just became a sort of mash-up of ideas. David: I’ve always loved ice cream. Everywhere we’d travel—especially in the US—there were these community-centered shops making ice cream with high quality ingredients. Really, there was one in every major city and we wanted to be that for Baltimore. More than just an ice cream shop.

What makes the Hampden neighborhood so unique?
Laura: Hampden is for sure unique. A mix of so many things create this thriving community. It’s basically an entire neighborhood of independent businesses, plus nearby universities and more. All of these shops and businesses, it’s like a dream, really. We did 99 percent of our holiday shopping in Hampden this past year—that’s so great. Atomic Books, for example. They are one of the best in the country and they have their own scene there. And it works. It all just works. David: The energy of a Friday night in Hampden, there’s a physical feel to it. Sitting out on the street, the people, the vibe. You see people you know constantly, and it’s great!

Where does the inspiration for your flavors come from?
David: I think of it as one of the main components of my job. Travel definitely inspires us. I think, what’s a dessert you might see in North Africa? So, then I make Bambara ice cream—peanut butter rice pudding with peanut pieces all through it. We made a Thai Tea Mango Sticky Rice flavor once, and we had some Thai guests that were floored. That’s pretty cool, you know? Also, when we go out to eat here in Baltimore, we look at those restaurant menus and try to create flavors that have a tie-in to the city.

What are some of your most popular flavors?
David: Of the signatures, Maryland Mud and Salted Caramel. Those are always on, definitely favorites. Others, like Saturday Morning Cartoons and Pistachio Toffee, we get requests for a lot when they’re not on. (Pistachio Toffee is my favorite!) Laura: There are basically three sections of flavors. Signatures include things like Salty Caramel, Tell Tale Chocolate, Maryland Mud. Then, seasonal: Butternut Squash and Clove, Strawberry, Fresh Mint with Figgy Lime Swirl. Finally, the last category is cult favorites like the Thai Tea.

What about unique flavors?
David: We try to keep it fun, but it still has to be good, you know? You have to tow that line. There’s a conscious effort to not take ourselves too seriously overall, keep it light...it’s ice cream. But that doesn’t mean we don’t work hard to create unique flavors that people also like. Things like Ants on a Log, Avocado Toast, Wings & Whiskey (whiskey with honey buffalo sauce) and Cheese & Crackers, which 90 percent of people who taste it on a spoon, order a scoop. There’s also Cinnamon Ramen, Saffron Rice Pudding and Gheorge Mira-Tang (Mirabelle Plumbs and Tang sorbet.) We only use natural flavors, but then we did put Lucky Charms in our Saturday Morning Cartoons flavor. We also love collaborating with local farms like One Straw Farm, Purple Sol and Two Boots. Sometimes we even have foragers contact us about using ingredients like lemon verbena and other herbs and roots. We will consider almost anything.

Tell us about some of your collaborations and partnerships. You seem to work with some pretty great folks.
David: Yeah, people like Union Craft Brewing. We work with them a lot, whether it’s on an event or an ice cream. We love those guys. They’re like the epitome of the spirit of Baltimore. Also, Dan Deacon and TT The Artist. It’s so crazy, ice cream can be like a palette. How do you see your music in ice cream? It’s so cool. When TT was here for a guest gig, she became completely immersed in the evening - she was amazing! And, Dan Deacon was so much fun. We made ice cream based on some of the foods he likes to eat while he’s on tour, like ice cream with Szechuan peppercorns. He worked the register, spun the wheel, the whole thing. Laura: We want to keep expanding the boundaries of ice cream, keep being creative. There really are no limits, it’s just fun. You can’t take it too seriously.

What do you love most about the Baltimore food scene?
David: It’s just constantly growing and there is a real lack of pretentiousness. Laura: I think I really love that there are so many craveable dishes around town, which makes you travel to other neighborhoods to try things. Like the Speegle Snacks at Bird in Hand, wings at The Local Fry, chicken soup at Clavel, everything (really) at Hersh’s, Tah Dig at Villagio in Stoneleigh, bratwurst at Blue Pit, hearth cooked vegetables at Parts & Labor, clam chowder at Dylan’s, anything Rachel makes for dessert at Woodberry Kitchen. See? We both could go on and on and you’d never stop writing. Our food scene is amazing!

If you had one day to introduce Baltimore to an out-of-towner, where would you take them and why?
Laura: AVAM, it’s one of the most unique places in the city and it represents Baltimore’s quirkiness so well. And, Sideshow (the gift shop there) is amazing. Also, crabs at Captain James in Fell’s Point. It’s nice to sit outside and eat crabs on the water. Oh and Oriole Park, you gotta go! You can bring your own food in and buy yourself a Union beer. Good to go. And, honestly, we’d bring them to The Avenue and walk in and out of shops, get some ice cream.

How do you balance home and work?
Laura: I think we do a pretty good job on that. We had to learn how to do it for sure. David: Also, you hire well. People you trust. It’s funny, at a lot of ice cream shops, the employees are seasonal. Not ours. Laura: Our employees have a real sense of ownership with the shop, and pride. It’s beautiful. David: And we think to ourselves, “How are you going to use this new business as a weapon for good, a positive force in the world.” And then you hire these people who really care.

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